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Women's basketball: Gophers advance in WNIT but lose Banham

By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

The crowd fell silent Sunday as Gophers star Rachel Banham lay on her back writhing in pain with coach Pam Borton and a team trainer at her side.

Banham, who had 31 points and a game-winning three-pointer in the opening round of the WNIT, would have to be helped to the locker room with her team leading 50-34 with 15 minutes left in the second half against Southern Methodist.

Minnesota would hold on for a 77-70 win without its leading scorer behind 22 points from senior Sari Noga.

But the Gophers (22-12) have to be concerned that their postseason run could fall short of the Final Eight if Banham’s injury sidelines her for the rest of the tournament.

Minnesota will play in the WNIT third round as early as Tuesday on the road against South Dakota State, which beat Creighton on Sunday.

Banham, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists, didn’t return after a suffering a leg injury.

She missed a game earlier this season after injuring her right knee in a Dec. 5. win over Miami (Fla.).

Her teammates rallied to beat North Dakota State 46-44 behind 25 points and 12 rebounds from freshman center Amanda Zahui B.

The following game, Banham returned to score 24 points in a home loss to UCLA.

The Lakeville native showed no signs of being slowed by her sore knee during the Big Ten season while leading the conference in scoring.

Banham and Zahui B. both earned All-Big Ten first team honors, so it could be on the 6-foot-5 Sweden native’s shoulders to keep the season going.

Sunday, Zahui B. struggled to provide an inside presence offensively with 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting, but she had 12 rebounds and four blocks.

The Gophers had to rely on Noga and sophomores Kayla Hirt and Mikayla Bailey, but they were lucky to have enough players to finish the game.

Borton entered the game with just eight healthy players since freshman guard Stabreesa McDaniel was out with concussion symptoms.

After Banham’s injury, Minnesota had just senior Micaella Riche and freshman Joanna Hedstrom on the bench.

Noga and Zahui B. both had to play with four fouls for the last several minutes, so it was a close call at the end.

SMU (18-14) cut it to a 74-70 game with 1:05 left on a jumper from Keena Mays, who finished with 34 points on 10-for-25 shooting.

But Bailey, who had 11 points, answered with two free throws to extend it to a six-point advantage with 25.7 seconds remaining.

The Gophers had five players in double figures, including Hirt’s 12 points.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.